most days

Most days I am so so grateful to live in a place where our painful challenges and immense inequities and brokenness are often met with the fierce spirits of people who want a change. Tonight, I just feel heavy. Tonight, my heart is breaking for our city.
Violence is perpetrated against our communities every day. Violence by systems, by the state, at the hands of broken souls. Families lose their children, lives are cut short, humanity is silenced. My heart hurts.
So to anyone who is living in resistance (in its many forms), thank you. When the law breeds injustice, resistance becomes a duty.
My hope is that with action, a change will soon come.

Tonight, I am thinking of my boys and my Cheetah Girls at school and Laquan McDonald and all of the people whose hearts ache because of senseless violence. I am with you.

Black Lives Matter. No Justice, No Peace.

There is so much more to say…I just don’t have the words to say it yet.

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The things I tell my students

I’ve found myself repeating a lot of the same phrases and actions to my students since I started working in school back in August. I say “does that sound good?” when I check for their understanding. I wave really big to them if they seem disengaged in class. I use the word “maturity” a lot (a tactic I took from one of my partner teachers) to remind them that they always tell me they’re grown and they need to prove that to me in the ways they interact with the world.

But I’ve also started repeating some mantras to myself. I wanted to share a few below:

See the victories. Celebrate the victories.
I used to say “little victories” a lot but I’m trying to just say “victories” now because maybe sometimes we should treat the seemingly tiny things like they’re super big and isn’t it fun to celebrate any victory like it’s the biggest deal in the whole wide world?

Believe in renewal at every turn.
Renewal feels like the theme of this year. After watching my partner teachers for two months now it seems like to practice teaching you have to practice renewal. You wake up every morning reminding yourself that these students deserve our confidence and trust, renewing the hope that they will reach their fullest potential.

Exhibit “critical hope.”
I’m the biggest fan of the idea of choosing optimism and talk about it a lot when I talk about education work. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, he said the pedagogy that might resonate more for the work is “critical hope.” I loved it (thanks Sam!). Being critical and being hopeful are no longer at odds and instead become perfect partners in justice work. For example, I was listening to a podcast last week where an education reporter – when talking about the glaring problem of segregation in schools – said that “this is not a time for collective responsibility.” He implied that our culture as a whole hasn’t taken ownership of our education systems, of the daily injustices shown in under-funding, segregation, and the ways we measure student success. I can be incredibly critical of the city that surrounds me, a city that sometimes feels like it’s avoiding responsibility for ALL of its young people, lifting up fraction of them and not ALL of them. This year I have tried to process and share this criticism alongside hope and action steps. It’s helped and feels integral in practicing in the field of education.

Gosh. I am so excited to see where this year [and this work] goes. It’s been an exhausting blast so far.

Also, thank you for reading! I hope you have the happiest of weeks and you enjoy fall and all the pumpkin blessings it brings.

Yours in Hope,
Megan

Also,
If you want to hear some brilliant/infuriating/heart-wrenching stories about students in Chicago Public Schools and urban public school systems in other parts of the country, I really recommend listening to two podcast series.The first is from NPR’s This American Life and is called Harper High School (it’s from 2013 and still so relevant and SO moving).The second is The Problem We All Live With, also from This American Life.
Of course I always try to listen with a critical discerning ear and have read a few criticisms of the reporting, but goshdarnit these narratives are so powerful. I sincerely encourage listening.

we’re back

So I just finished up a week back in Chicago and it’s been amazing.

And in an attempt to re-re-launch the blog just in time for the summer, I wanted to post the transcript of a speech I gave at session 5 of Denison’s June Orientation, a program where our first-years come on campus to plan their first semester. It encompasses a message out to the world that I want to share. So here it is!:

“I was talking with Mark the other day, and he noted that these speeches are sometimes just as much for the staff as they are for all of you. He’s totally right, especially for those of us who walked across the stage a little under a month ago. In a way, this is how I get to say goodbye to my home.

Which is also nice because I literally just secured an apartment today – wahooo! – so that’s huge.

I get to leave this home and sign a lease for another one!

I am saying goodbye to a place where I feel happy and whole and it’s kind of like second graduation. So I’m going to be a little selfish and say goodbye to Denison in this speech and then pass it down to you.

I’ve chosen a career in education and I’m going into high school student development in Chicago next year. I’ve been chattin’ a lot with my mom about my future. She is one of my dearest friends, by the way, but we’ve come to blows quite a few times because it’s not the most secure path…we’ve talked A LOT about fiscal responsibility and work/life balance and stress and health and living and safety

and every single worry she shares with me and there’s always a new one and that’s just kind of a mom thing…

I’ve spent a lot of time justifying and pushing back when she asks me questions or is struggling to understand my choices and I’ve noticed a pattern in my responses. I realize now more than ever that the same things I fell in love with here have become the reasons why I want to do this work.

I fell in love with social change and race and media studies and communication theory and leadership development and self-care when I was at Denison. These things have made indelible marks on my heart and shaped my future.

To sum up these things, I wanted to share with you some sentiments from poets and thinkers and um then also me.

Because what we learn in a place often leaves with us.

But this time, I want to leave with you all that I’ve learned.

We are all just walking each other home. – Ram Dass

One of my friends, on the night before graduation, stood up on a chair and said this to the whole room: “I know we won’t always be walking alongside each other in person, but I know we’ll be walking alongside each other for a really long time.”

You are all going to be walking alongside one another for four years…and maybe much longer than that. I ask you to keep each other safe. This means a few different things:

  • Every single person around you in this world deserves your consideration.
  • Show courage in your undying empathy towards one another.
  • Value and love someone’s difference and embrace and walk alongside them when they are experiencing difficulties or setbacks that you may never come across in your own life.
  • ..literally walk one another home. Campus is safe but it always feels safer when someone is right next to you.

Ubuntu

This roughly translates to “I am because we are” or “my humanity is bound up in yours.” It is the belief that we are defined by our compassion and kindness toward others. That there is a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity because we belong to a greater whole.

At Denison, you are here for each other. You are also a part of an unbelievably large community that stretches way way past the Hill. Treat it all well.

Respond to every call that excites your spirit. – Rumi

You’ll receive many calls while you’re here. Respond only to the ones that make your heart soar…say no to the things that don’t.

For a while at Denison, I was really tired. I had taken on too much and was distancing myself from people…people who mattered more to me than anything else. I’m a textbook extrovert … it took me a long time to realize and understand that loving a lot of things and a lot of people doesn’t mean you can’t advocate for yourself or take time to just be in the world.

This is a really safe place to struggle and then share it out, if that’s how you process. I do and I’m an open book so I have told stories about my health and wellness and how for a portion of my Denison experience, I wasn’t ok and had to reach out a lot to get back on my feet. I have told friends who have taken a lot on. I have shared with first-years who have just arrived on campus. I got to do a TEDx talk.

It was at Denison where I learned the deep deep value of vulnerable resilience.

It was where I learned to choose optimism, even – and especially – in the face of adversity.

It was also where I got weird.

We all tell each other stories about what is normal or abnormal. Ignore those stories. You’ll stop looking for what or who is “normal” and instead look for people and experiences and adventures that make you feel happy and good and whole.

That weirdness will be a part of you, but your way of being in the world and your fierce integrity will define you.

You have untapped potential for all of these things…the Hill is a good place to discover this potential and bravely live in it.

My spirituality and my formative times were shaped by friends who dared to speak out, to be themselves, the ones who were brave and resilient.…some of these people that have changed my world are sitting in this room, actually…this is an incredible group.

You will soon be those people – what I have always called ‘lighthouse people’ – to others.

You will guide just by being you.

So that’s all I’ve got for now. Be good, everyone.
Please take care of each other and yourselves.
Take care of this place because it was mine, and now it’s yours too.

Walk each other home.”

I repeated a lot of the things I’ve said on the Wondergraduate in this speech. And I’ll probably continue to repeat these things in coming posts. I promise there will be new content too…these are just things I deeply deeply care about that I think are worth repeating. 🙂

Happy hump day, friends!

feelings day is today

Today was a day for feels, to be sure. This special (but rather short) thank you blog post goes out to the Denison Communication Department, a reflection on leadership, and an e-mail about commencement…a few of the things that made me feel ALL the emotions today.

I’m very very lucky and if I needed another reminder, today was it.

In a review of the Communication department, I got to speak to my experience in the major and why it has meant so much to me. How could I put into words that the ability to make meaning of my own experience and the experiences of others was handed to me in a holistic curriculum wrapped with a bow of empathy and mentorship? I mean, I tried, but it didn’t come out exactly like that.

I got home and sat down to write a reflection on leadership. I wrote about the ways I’ve been shaped at Denison by my mentors and peers. Here’s an excerpt:
Leadership should not demand extraversion. It should not demand a position. It should not demand a loud voice. Leadership should only demand a passionate voice. The strongest leaders come at challenges with unadulterated passion, embodying a healthy idealism and a joy with which they do all things. I believe that the practice of leadership, at its core, is creating the space for others to realize their full potential. It is supporting fellow humans in their own journey with a lightheartedness. Above all things, I have tried to face life at Denison head-on with immense joy. I will admit, it’s been rather easy because of the gift of optimism I’ve been given in my time here.

And THEN I read an e-mail from Denison that I got earlier about commencement asking me if I was going to be at graduation and I was like YES IF I CAN HANDLE ALL OF THE FEELINGS YOU MADE ME FEEL BECAUSE THIS E-MAIL JUST NOW.

Being sad and happy at the same time is one of the most beautiful human experiences. I am glad and blessed and lucky to be feeling both emotions in spades right now.

Also, I’m sending out special good vibes to the Class of 2015 tonight.

love love love
Megan

the spirituality in community

I am coming off of one of those birthdays for the books and guys I gotta say that 22 feels really really good.

I consider myself spiritual because the spirit and the soul and what is “good” consume my thoughts and inform the way I live every single day. However, my ideas of a god or gods and my perceptions of what is holy and what is grace so often shift. My experience is so deeply rooted in my values…everything else is up for debate. What maintains my positivity and an openness in the world is the people I am surrounded by. Spending time in a community is my spirituality. It is my weekly service. It is my experience of humanity. And it keeps my soul afloat. Even when I encounter a disagreement, it is the possibility of engaging thoughtfully with another person that makes it all wonderful.

I don’t exactly know what happens when our time on Earth is done. I just know that there is beauty in living. For me, that is enough to move forward every day celebrating life and trying to be good. But what helps, for me, is being among the good people. I hope you’ve found those good people too…the ones that feed your soul and make you laugh and make you feel whole.

Today, I was reminded how incredibly lucky I am to have the good people in my corner. I am truly blessed. My best friends from home, my fellow Denison students, those who have graduated, my sister/best friend. They’re all my community. They also all make me feel so unbelievably whole. I am thankful today and every day.

This post is just the tiniest thank you.

xo
The Wondergraduate

a few thoughts on the Golden Globes

Friends, I watched the Golden Globes last night. Wha?! To be honest, I’m usually not the biggest awards show lady but I had my best friend Maddie by my side and wine in my hand, so how could anything go wrong? We thought we’d be cringing from some awkward speeches and off-color jokes but man, were we wrong. (OK yes this did happen a couple times but it certainly wasn’t the overall feel of the show.)

Even if you didn’t watch the Golden Globes last night, I hope you get a chance to read some of the quotes below because there were some hilarious moments, some hopeful moments, and even some progressive moments! My absolute favorites:

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. 
These two women are my biggest crushes. They were brash and funny and darling and everything we could have dreamed for their third time hosting. For example, when commenting on Steve Carell’s Foxcatcher character and how it took his make-up team two hours to prepare every day on set, Fey said that it took her “three hours to prepare for my part as ‘human woman.'” I die.tinafeysuit

Also, Tina wore an amazing pantsuit with a sparkly bowtie, which she rocked onstage later on in the show…it was really really cute. I mean, just so so cute.

Overall, Amy and Tina had the buddy comedy thing down to a science as co-hosts and they got big laughs and a shout-out from Meryl Streep…to no one’s surprise!

Transparent.
When Jill Soloway accepted the award for Best TV Comedy for Transparent: “I want to thank the trans community. They are our family and they make this possible. This award is dedicated to the memory of Leelah Alcorn, and too many trans people who died too young. And it’s dedicated to you, my trans parent, my ‘mapa,’ if you’re watching at home right now. I want to thank you for coming out because in doing so you made a break for freedom, you told your truth, you taught me how to tell my truth and make this show, and maybe we’ll be able to teach the world something about authenticity and truth and love. To love.” I couldn’t agree more. To love!

Jeffrey Tambor accepting his award for Best Actor in a Comedy for his portrayal of Maura Pfefferman: “I would like to dedicate my performance and this award to the transgender community…thank you thank you thank you for your courage, thank you for your inspiration, thank you for your patience, and thank you for letting us be a part of the change.”

Sometimes, visibility is a beautiful thing and the win last night shone a much-needed spotlight transgender rights and on the tragedy of Leelah Alcorn, if only for a moment. True representation and visibility will mean more transgender actors in roles on TV but damn, this is progress.

Amal Alamuddin. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler wrote an amazing joke last night which brilliantly called out the trophy husband of human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin: “George Clooney married Amal Alamuddin this year. Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an adviser to Kofi Annan regarding Syria, and was selected for a three-person commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza Strip. So tonight, her husband is getting a lifetime achievement award.

Boyhood‘s win. I really really liked this movie. It was quite the feat, filmed for a few weeks each year over a period of 12 years. The film is a moving portrayal of a single mom and her family just trying to make it through a sometimes tough and ever-complicated life. My mind was blown when I saw it and I recommend.

Maggie Gyllenhaal‘s acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie for her work in The Honorable Woman. My favorite part? “I’ve noticed a lot of people talking about the wealth of roles for powerful women in television lately. And when I look around the room at the women who are in here and I think about the performances that I’ve watched this year what I see actually are women who are sometimes powerful and sometimes not, sometimes sexy, sometimes not, sometimes honorable, sometimes not, and what I think is new is the wealth of roles for actual women in television and in film. That’s what I think is revolutionary and evolutionary and it’s what’s turning me on.”

Common and John Legend. Common and Legend wrote “Glory” for Selma and won Best Song. I’ve included my favorite parts of their acceptance speech below. It was wonderful.

From Common: “As I got to know the people of the Civil Rights movement, I realized I am the hopeful black woman who was denied her right to vote. I am the caring white supporter killed on the front lines of freedom. I am the unarmed black kid who maybe needed a hand but instead was given a bullet. I am the two fallen police officers murdered in the line of duty. “Selma” has awakened my humanity, and I thank you, Ava (Selma’s director)…We look to the future, and we want to create a better world. Now is our time to change the world. ‘Selma’ is now.

John Legend: “I’m so honored to be a part to of this amazing film that honors such amazing people that did great work and is so connected to what’s happening right now. We still are in solidarity with those who are out there fighting for justice right now, and we’re so grateful to write this song, hopefully, as an inspiration to them. Thank you very much.”

I hope you see the movie. Also, I really recommend listening to the winning song, “Glory.” It is so poignant, it is so relevant, and it embodies a hope for our future. Common and John Legend and their music remind us that Black lives still matter and Selma is NOW.

Some of the above things I included as favorites were just goofy fun things because I have a big sense of humor and I giggled for a lot of the show last night. HOWEVER, there were also moments during the show last night that illuminated a really important movement in film and television right now for art that reflects real people living very real lives and writes stories that highlight what good people could be.

xox.

on happy hour and art

I am simply the luckiest gal on the planet. I’ll say it again and again because it’s just the most true.

Yesterday, I got to spend time with one of the all-time human greats – officialblogshout-out to Nikki – in the blistering Chicago cold. We got coffee with Taylor (another great) at Dollop and then met up at the Slurping Turtle with more friends for some scrumptious food and then walked to Portillo’s for cake because these are my kinda people and we collectively decided we needed cake. Then we went to get delicious tropical beverages at a tiki bar. Today, I went to a happy hour with some old friends and new friends and drank some mojitos and relaxed. It’s been a glorious 48 hours.

On Happy Hour: Happy hours are my most vice-oriented self-care practice, but I think they are important nonetheless. We don’t give a chat around drinks enough cred in the world of self-care, but for me it’s a great way to relax and blow off steam and sit around a table and hear about your friends and not talk about work! Also, fancy and delicious drinks are a fun thing. And fish tacos, which are amazing. I recommend.

On Art: You don’t have to know anything about art to know that it can make you feel something. I walked through the Impressionist wing and the Modern Wing in the Art Institute yesterday and my heart was all warm and soaring and fulfilled by the end of the visit. There was just some seriously brilliant, moving artwork and I got to walk through one of the most beautiful buildings in the city looking at it. Nikki caught me all starry-eyed and giggly a couple times just out of sheer wonder.

On New Beginnings: Moving to a new home in a new city is really scary. I know Chicago pretty well and moving back here in June will still be really scary. I mean, it’s a new life! Every time I get to hang out with new people and laugh and bond and develop friend crushes quickly and swiftly, it is intensely comforting. The new beginning here won’t be as shocking since I feel like I’ll have some people to trust.

On Unplugging: In the late afternoon yesterday, I pulled out my phone and it was at 73 percent. This was BIG. There is very little more satisfying to me than looking at my phone and seeing that it’s near full charge after a day out. It means I didn’t stare at my screen and get all captivated and sucked in and in turn, didn’t waste my whole battery. It means I was with wonderful people having a wonderful time.

Honestly, it’s really hard to step away. I have to be so so intentional to not constantly check my phone. But today, I took a break – on purpose – from my phone for an hour. It wasn’t terrible at ALL. So, I charge you, in the coming month, to go screen free. 1 hour. 2 hours. A whole day. A whole week. Whatever you can manage, do it. Start easy by taking one hour a day to deliberately avoid your phone and the computer and your television. I’ll try to unplug too…I think it’ll be beautiful for everyone involved.

It might just be better to be less transfixed by screens.

To, instead, be mesmerized by books
and trees
and people
and life.

xox.

The thing is, you need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. – Louis C.K.

space and place

There is a power in space and place. For one, it’s been an incredible month for me being home in the city I love. I feel rejuvenated when I come back to spend some down time, especially in a place as incredible as Chicago. And it makes sense…it’s a common practice to take time to go “home for the holidays.” It’s a great recharge and a nostalgic return to childhood for so many.

But our cultural definitions of “home” often restrict us to a location, a resting place, the place where our family is, wherever we have pillow and a blanket. We answer “where is home?” with physical spaces and the places we most identify with, silencing (inadvertently, of course) the voices of people who maybe haven’t had a steady place to call “home.”

Having just one “home” isn’t always the case, either. I grew up in a house on The Pines. But I also grew up at my high school in French class and gym and my university in East Hall and Crawford and Shaw and Lower Elm and Higley and all these other little spaces where I learned and I found myself and became someone I liked being around.

I didn’t just find myself in places. I found myself (and continue to find myself) with the guidance and love from my lighthouse people: my advisors and dear friends and roommates and brilliant peers. I self-discover by reading great works of poets and scholars and artists and writing things down and talking things out with the people I trust and truly listening to people brighter and wiser than me.

I think that sometimes, we find our home in people.

And it’s magical – and even empowering in a way – that “home” doesn’t have to be a space or place. Home can be found in people that make us feel whole and safe. They are the greats sprinkled into our daily lives to be our salvation.

It’s why losing people is so hard and painful…it’s losing a home along with its moments and memories and familiarity. It uproots us and scares us.

BUT, it is also why connecting with new people is energizing and exciting and wonderful. I don’t think we have to restrict ourselves by having one home. We find new homes every day.

Just remember…guard them and keep them safe and hold them dear with all your might. Your people are worth it.

xox.

Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.
– Sarah Dessen in What Happened to Goodbye

comedy & catharsis

We did our best here [at the Daily Show] to process those events, even enjoyed a bit of fun…and I know doing those bits helps no one, other than maybe us, here at the show, individually, as a creative outlet, a catharsis, a way of processing emotion that might otherwise be undigested. At least that process has begun … I honestly don’t know what to say. If comedy is tragedy plus time, I need more f***ing time.
Jon Stewart, in the wake of the killing of Eric Garner

I’ve watched a lot of Jon Stewart and I can tell you that his yell at the end of his report on the Grand Jury decision was pure anguish. It wasn’t for comedic effect, it wasn’t to get laughs…he was angry.

And he was right. So many incredible comedians take tragedies in their own lives and reframe them into hilarious routines on stage…they just take time to let the pain subside first and then jump right in. They even take events in the world and make them pliable and understandable through comedy.

We laugh because we identify. I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts recently – I mean just SO many because the couch is comfortable and break is nice – and my absolute favorite is You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes, who is a doll of a comedian and a truly brilliant guy. The recurring theme in so many of his episodes is that being a comic isn’t simply being the silly fun person on stage telling jokes, but something more. In an episode with philosopher Pete Rollins, he says “comedy is the moral voice of today,” that being a comic means being a social observer and remarking on the plagues of our society.

I also watched what. It’s Bo Burnham’s most recent comedy special, it’s hilarious (you can find it for free on YouTube!), and it’s one of the smartest social commentaries out there. Burnham is one of my favorite comedians (check an example of his comedy here) because his themes are kind of dark – he covers topics like god, family turmoil, misogyny, homophobia – but he uses comedy to make these themes approachable. It’s certainly not all light or filled with constant jokes and gimmicks but damn is it is funny.

What Jon, Pete, Bo and so many others in comedy (like some of my other favorites Louis CK and Jessica Williams) all have in common is that their comedy smartly masks commentary. It’s not making fun of tragedy. It’s applying a lightness to our daily tragedy in a sensitive way when it’s done right. I think comedy can help us process emotions left otherwise unprocessed. So find your favorite comedians, and start listening. It might lend some giggles to a human processing that often comes with unbelievable weight. Your laughter is a precious commodity…use it well and use it as frequently as you possibly can. 🙂

xox.

What should I write about next? Shoot me an e-mail at thewondergraduate@gmail.com or leave a comment!